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Smells like a hit: Sox players help test theory jasmine can improve hitting

April 24, 2012|Leonor Vivanco, RedEye

Here's a curveball.

Could jasmine increase the batting performance for baseball players?

If you ask Dr. Alan Hirsch from the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, which studies how smells affect behaviors, the answer is yes. He'll be presenting his findings on Thursday to the Association of Chemoreception Sciences at its annual meeting in Huntington Beach, Calif.

In a study conducted last summer, six White Sox players alternated between wearing jasmine-scented and unscented wristbands. They sniffed them once before swinging at 10 pitches in the batting cage atU.S. Cellular Field. Each player faced the same pitcher, who tried to throw the ball consistently to the batter.

The pitcher and batting coaches rated how each player swung at the ball, connected for a hit, how far the ball went, how fast the swing was and whether the performance changed for better or worse. The pitcher and batting coaches didn't know when the players were wearing the scented and unscented wristbands. Each batter rated how he felt about the swing and batting ability.

"Across the board, they were better with jasmine. They hit better. Their follow-through was better," Hirsch said.

The results of the study mimicked Hirsch's findings that the smell of jasmine helped improve the performance of bowlers, according to a study published in 2007 in the International Journal of Essential Oil Therapeutics. Another study showed jasmine improved reaction time.

The aroma of jasmine is known to put people in a more awakened, alert state, he said. The idea is the more energized people are, the better they do in an athletic performance. He wanted to test the smell of jasmine on other athletes who have quick reflexes and good hand-eye coordination.

So, why did the baseball players do better with the scented wristbands?

The scent of jasmine could have put the players in a positive, happy mood, made them less nervous, or given them an extra boost of energy, leading them to perform better, Hirsch said. Or it could have increased hand-eye coordination and alertness. Another possibility, he said, is it could have enhanced their motivation, meaning they wanted to do better in the presence of the smell.

Even though the batters were able to smell the scent, they were unaware of the intent of the experiment and the nature of the odor.

Hirsch said he doesn't think it's enough that jasmine can be a pleasant odor. Findings from another study he conducted show lavender, an odor people like, had no effect on improving reaction time.

He admits he wasn't so sure any scent would have an effect on the highly paid major league baseball players whose job it is to play well.

But the study worked.

"Even when you're at the top of your game, you can be that much better," he said.

Maybe the Cubs need to take a whiff of jasmine in the clubhouse.

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